[GLOBAL EYE]Korea faces lesser role in AsiaWhen Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing in 1988, Deng Xiaoping told him, “The coming of the Asian era in the 21st century, if it really comes, will be only after both India and China join the group of advanced economies.” In the recently released report on the 2020 project ― “Mapping the Global Future” ― the National Intelligence Council under the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency compared the impact of China and India in 2020 to the “advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century.”
The report also projected that by 2020, China’s gross national product will “exceed that of all Western economic powers except for the United States” and India’s GNP will “have overtaken or be on the threshold of overtaking European economies.” Based on the combination of high economic growth, ever-expanding military capability, acquirement of latest technology and large populations, China and India are expected to make a leap to become an economic and political power and lead the Asian era.
It’s no news that China is growing into an economic power. However, it is noteworthy that the report identified both China and India as protagonists of the “Asian era.” Certainly, the octogenarian Mr. Deng had outstanding insight 16 years ago. While we should not underestimate the growing international role of the European Union, Russia and Japan, their aging populations could be a big liability for them.
China, the factory of the world, and India, a power in the software world, would create two main axes. Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian nations are likely to strengthen an alliance against China or stay under the wing of the Untied States. The economic “magnet” of India would attract the Central Asian countries to its north, as well as Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. Just as we have encountered questions about the definition of Europe as the European Union continues to expand, the question of the China- and India-led Asian century will be “what is the boundary of Asia,” not “what is Asia.”
Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa are behind China and India, albeit distantly, but the presence of Korea, the supposed hub of the Northeast Asian era, is nowhere to be found. Korea was also missing in the list of projected top 10 largest economies in 2050 by Goldman Sachs’ global research center in its October report.
As the global economy rapidly integrates, the conventional boundaries between the east and the west, and the north and the south are increasingly faint. We are going to have a completely different geopolitical and economic map from the existing landscape. Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore is hosting an international conference on “Managing Globalization: Lessons from China and India” in April in conjunction with leading U.S. institutes.
After giving way to China in the manufacturing sector and without a viable alternative in the post-semiconductor boom, how can Korea make its living next to China? As long as Seoul’s policy to China is limited by the North Korean issue, Beijing’s arrogance and Seoul’s low profile are not likely to change.
One of the biggest variables in the region by 2020 will be the regime change or breakdown of North Korea. China has a special relationship with the North, virtually a blood-tied alliance. The true intention of Beijing’s placement of large-scale troops along the border with North Korea might be more about getting a head start by moving into the North at a time of emergency than preventing defectors from coming into China.
In the contest of interests among the United States, China and Japan over North Korea and Taiwan, how should Korea behave? How should we manage relations with the four neighborhood giants, the United States, Russia, China and Japan, and maintain the Northeast Asian triangular system with China and Japan?
Beyond the simple collection of bilateral ties with each country, it is necessary that Seoul coordinates its diplomacy within the bigger framework of Asia, similar to how the tension between Germany and France is managed within the larger framework of Europe. If we do not have a prophetic national vision of seeing the greater flow of history and revamp ourselves, China’s emergence as an economic power will mean a crisis, not an opportunity, for Korea.
* The writer is the editor in chief of the monthly publication NEXT. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Byun Sang-keun